Dublin: 6°C Thursday 27 January 2022
Advertisement

Easy on the eye but hard on their opponents - Connacht eye another win to move up the table

Andy Friend’s team take on the Ospreys in the Sportsground this evening.

Connacht celebrate their win over Ulster.
Connacht celebrate their win over Ulster.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IF LIFE WAS fair, Connacht would scan the fixture list and see equality. There wouldn’t be the injustice of having to face the league’s three best sides, Leinster, Munster and Ulster, twice as often as everyone else. Nor would they be denied the opportunity to face the bottom team, Zebre, on the same number of occasions as their rivals for a Champions Cup spot, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Benetton.

If life was fair, the top eight teams in this league would be the ones who fill the eight available slots for next season’s Champions Cup. But life isn’t always kind. Sometimes the size of your country dictates you must enter a league with teams from four other unions. That requires compromise.

That leads to a league structure where teams like Glasgow and Edinburgh get to lick their lips and teams like Connacht need to bite their tongue. For this season and next, Andy Friend’s team have to endure a system which could conceivably reward mediocrity.

In other words, Connacht could finish eighth but still lose out on a place in next season’s Champions Cup to a team positioned lower than them in the table because them’s the rules.

The upshot is that here we are, on match-day six of this 18-game regular season, and Connacht are already realising they need a win pretty bad.

It won’t come easy. Ospreys, tonight’s opponents in the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm, RTÉ 2) have improved dramatically since last season, winning four of their five games so far, all four by margins of eight points or less.

mack-hansen-scores-a-try Mack Hansen scores against Ulster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Even so, we have seen enough in Connacht’s potential, and witnessed the raucous nature of their support, to confidently assert that if they decide to show up this evening, they’ll win. They often do when they have to.

That was the case five weeks ago. Home advantage had been ceded; the Aviva was booked to generate a few extra quid; unbeaten Ulster arrived there with a bigger reputation. And Connacht spanked them.

That’s what they are capable of. A number of their players – Mack Hansen and Conor Oliver particularly – but also Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane, Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion – have lit things up this season. Others have done so here and there. But three times – Bulls at home, against Ulster in the Aviva and away to Munster – almost everything clicked.

That was when we saw what they were capable of, that ability to inflict damage on better financed opponents through their blend of graft and craft. Aesthetically, they are a joy to watch, yet there is also effectiveness to their play, especially when Hansen gets a bit of space.

They’ll miss John Porch and Tiernan O’Halloran in their back three this evening – but Alex Wootton, last season’s top try scorer, is a welcome returnee.

A midfield without Bundee Aki, Tom Daly and Tom Farrell, is worrying. Sammy Arnold is an experienced deputy, even though Shayne Bolton, their 21-year-old debutant, is not. This is his chance to make a name for himself.

There has been grit in their forward play this season – their maul defence improving immeasurably from last season – and the depth of options on their bench may prove critical when we pass the hour mark. For their part, Ospreys too have developed a deeper squad since they last came here a year ago.

jack-carty Jack Carty got a new contract this week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Elvis Taione, their 38-year-old hooker, said: “Jac Morgan is a young player who I’ve been impressed with; locks Will Griffiths and Rhys Davies, two more who always do what is asked of them.”

Ospreys coach, Toby Booth, added: “We know it’s all about benchmarking ourselves against the Irish provinces and this is an opportunity to do that.

“Connacht are especially tough at home, play with a passionate crowd and the ground can be quite an intimidating place to go due to its location.

“We know we need to be very good at the basics because that gets you into the game. When you are playing away, that’s the entry point to try to apply some pressure.”

Connacht

SEE SPORT
DIFFERENTLY

Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

15. Oran McNulty
14. Alex Wootton
13. Shayne Bolton
12. Sammy Arnold
11. Mack Hansen
10. Jack Carty (capt)
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Matthew Burke
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Niall Murray
5. Ultan Dillane
6. Jarrad Butler
7. Conor Oliver
8. Paul Boyle

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Jack Aungier
19. Oisín Dowling
20. Eoghan Masterson
21. Caolin Blade
22. Conor Fitzgerald
23. Peter Robb

Ospreys

15. Dan Evans
14. Max Nagy
13. Owen Watkin
12. Joe Hawkins
11. Luke Morgan
10. Stephen Myler
9. Rhys Webb (capt)

1. Nicky Smith
2. Elvis Taione
3. Tom Botha
4. Bradley Davies
5. Rhys Davies
6. Sam Cross
7. Jac Morgan
8. Ethan Roots

Replacements:

16. Sam Parry
17. Gareth Thomas
18. Rhys Henry
19. Will Griffiths
20. Morgan Morris
21. Reuben Morgan-Williams
22. Josh Thomas
23. Cai Evans

Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

Read next:

COMMENTS (3)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel